HYUNDAI Kona NGet your growl on
So, you’re considering a small SUV? You don’t need a city tractor to haul a ludicrously large mobile second mortgage. If you want to go on a big boat, you’ll book an ocean cruise. You just need enough room for four adults (or two with three kids) and sufficient space in the back for the weekly shopping, a run to the nursery or visit to IKEA, and perhaps to take Fido for a play date. Realistically speaking, if it’s easy to manoeuvre and park, what else could you possibly want?
If practicality is what you must have, you don’t have the option to consider devilishly handsome good looks, crisp sporty handling, or enough mumbo under your right boot to take years off your complexion by instantly converting that everyday frown into a wide-eyed grin.
With most SUVs, tame is their middle name, and doing everyday practicality is their specialty; and so you accept that there goes the last of your youth. Well… not anymore!
Allow me to introduce the new bad boy on the block, the Hyundai Kona N. It’s the latest addition to the Hyundai N brand line-up, and the first SUV N model.
It’s a special delivery from those slightly demented, but wonderfully creative, technical boffins in crisp white coats clutching clipboards, who spend every waking hour in the hidden engineering vaults of Hyundai’s top secret development center “N Division”. Trained from an early age, their life’s work evolves around the principle of take something ordinary and making it extraordinary.
So don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all flashy external body trimmings, fancy wheels, low-profile tyres and signature accents—this thing is the real deal. Hyundai’s happy little go anywhere Kona commuter was conscripted into N boot camp, force-fed a diet of testosterone, red meat, and steroids. It trained relentlessly to perform difficult feats of performance, and watched countless motor racing podium finishes, to graduate as a true warrior and Zen master in the teachings of N.
With a full complement of N-signature high-performance technologies, the Kona N delivers unexpected levels of performance and capability, both on the road and at the track, that will leave your mouth agape!
Externally, this muscled little bulldog looks fantastic, and it snorts and growls just as much.
I was nervous leaving it in the car park in case it forgot itself by lifting a wheel on the Porsche Macan parked nearby. Pictures don’t do its real-world presence justice.
The standard Kona has a podgy little face that elicits a playful pinch on the cheek followed by, “Who’s a lil cutie?”. But the N, not so much. Keep your hands safely in your pockets and pass it cautiously from the other side of the road. It separates itself from other siblings, with a menacing black chain mail grille adorned by the N forces regiment insignia. A prominent wide low air intake designed to channel large amounts of air into its lungs to keep under-hood temperatures less than volcanic during frenetic activity when running hard on warm track days. Space-age low mounted LED headlights, and slim line Daytime Running Lights sit high at the bonnet’s edge, as the front tapers up to meet evocative bonnet nostrils and bold body lines, giving it an assertive strong appearance. The only thing missing was a studded collar.
However, as I got to know it better; I liked the subtle finessing touches of red piping accentuating the front splitter, special N side skirts and the way it highlights the outer edge of the finned black rear diffuser, nicely decorated with large dual exhaust tips.
Those superb looking 19”’ alloys wrapped in tacky Pirelli P-Zeros covering brazen red calipers perfectly match the style and proportions of the Kona N’s aggressive stance and shape, promoting a wide and low stance. And to complete this feisty N’s racy good looks is a large wing spoiler to help press the N’s tail end downward at speed.
For some reason, out of the available colour options, (Atlas White, Cyber Grey, Dark Night and Phantom Black, unique Gravity Gold, and the gorgeous Ignite flame) my least favourite color for the Kona N was Performance Blue. Which, which by the way, I think looks stunning on all other N variants.
Inside is where the fun continues. Yes, there’s the practicality of space, the option to fold the rear seats for extra storage, the usual USB charging ports, power windows and AC. It’s got all the good stuff that every Kona has, only this time there’s the special performance touches which make the N a clear pack leader.
Starting with genuine sports orientated powered bucket seats for driver and passenger, with heating and ventilation. They’ve just the right amount of bolstering, which is firm enough to offer good lateral support during spirited cornering, yet still comfortable enough to deal with the daily grind of stop-start traffic and the necessity of being able to get in an out with relative ease.
You can choose to have them covered in black cloth or a black suede/leather combination on the Kona N premium edition.
The nicely heated leather wrapped steering wheel is correctly sized and feels good in your hands. It’s equipped with those special N buttons, paddle shifters and a rather prominent red NGS button called Grin Shift just enticing you to push it. Over on the console, the N’s leather gear lever falls easy to hand, no need to reach or separate your shoulders from the backrest. It features sequential shift mode for a little extra fun and provides tactile grip even if wearing driving gloves. But the “let’s get serious” manual hand brake and metal race pedals clearly indicate the N’s predilection for having fun.
Front and center is an impressive 10.25” Satellite Navigation and multimedia system display, only this time there’s the extra N headline display for driving data. Match this up to the full LCD digital instrument cluster and you’re presented with a comprehensive overview of key vehicle information at a glimpse.
What was impressive is our premium edition also extended the functionality of Hyundai’s rather good head up display (HUD). When N mode is active, it displays important information for driver feedback including engine rpm, gear shift lights to caress the red line at every change, plus a reference confirming which gear you’ve grabbed via the sequential shifter. This is handy, as you don’t have the physical reference you get from a manual floor stick shift. And the non-premium addition doesn’t miss out, it displays the same information on the main screen.
This is all besides the array of data offered by the N Performance Driving Data System, giving you power and torque outputs, turbo boost, a g-force meter and acceleration stopwatch. And what of those magic little N buttons? Well, they select various custom modes. With each custom mode, you can pre-set your own individual preferences.
Be prepared to spend some time in the driveway at home just playing with the vast number of options—I know I did.
There’s also a function called Track maps, allowing you to load circuit layouts for various racetracks around Australia. Such as Wanneroo Raceway or Collie Motorplex here in WA. When used, the system will show the position of the vehicle on the track and live lap times whilst logging your previous lap times.
Of course, if you’re in a more relaxed mood, you can enjoy the picturesque forestry and dappled sunlight coming through the glass sunroof as you cruise the wonderful winding roads of our stunning southwest, sipping a café au lait.
Why not indulge your other senses and crank up the audio to experience the N’s Harman Kardon eight -speaker premium audio system? Your phone won’t have a problem keeping up thanks to the wireless charging pad. And naturally, a vehicle of this caliber has standard DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with smartphone mirroring.
Crack open the chest plate, and wedged neatly into the engine bay confines is a beastly direct-injected twin-cam smoking 206kW 2.0L turbocharged GDI engine. Peak power is in the upper reaches between 5,500 to 6000rpm. Harnessed to a beefy version of Hyundai’s in house paddle-shift eight-speed wet DC dual clutch transmission, it’s been specifically enhanced for durability, and sprinkled with the patience of an angel to deal with the engines over the top outbursts of power surging tantrums.
Not only can the trans deal with the engine’s feisty demands, but it relishes it, utilising unique gear ratios to exploit the engine’s demonic personality by delivering lightning gear shifts as you keep the pedal firmly pressed into the carpet during hard driving.
Gently transitioning to braking, I squeezed the paddle shifter to drop down a ratio for the next series of bends and the N applied silky smooth rev-matched downshifts, announced loudly by the intoxicating motorsport-inspired crackle and pop of the exhaust.
Now that the Kona N had my attention; I couldn’t resist playing with the three exclusive driving features starting with the special red secret agent button N Grin Shift (code named NGS) which is available from any drive mode. Intrigued, I couldn’t help myself. I just had to press this ominous red button.
In a savage 20 second burst, the N’s central nervous system takes a huge adrenalin shot and enters flight mode. Instantly you feel the transmission and exhaust jump to Sport+ mode. The turbo ignores the waste gate control limits and over boosts the maniacal 2.0L engine, ramping power output to an additional 213kWs. The shift sequence forcibly snaps the DC trans to the lowest possible ratio to deliver impetuous acceleration. As it mimics a Star Trek Federation star ship jumping to warp, you ponder the similar science fiction benefits of inertia dampers.
Just keep in mind, Hyundai recommends a 40s pause between each slam dunk, allowing the Kona to catch its breath. I find that totally acceptable–it took me longer to catch my own!
Next on my list was the “Oh-so-satisfying” N Power Shift (NPS). Using a motorsport-inspired shift logic, any torque dip normally felt between gear changes to make them seamless and softer is disabled, allowing for greater driver engagement and reward by delivering a positive firm shift as if driving a manual. Combine this with the active variable exhaust system and the Kona produces an edifying soundtrack to match throttle opening and engine rpm.
N Track Sense (NTS) as the name would suggest, is available when the transmission is in sports mode. It places the Kona in its highest state of alertness. The system closely monitors the driver’s inputs to automatically sense when an aggressive driving style is used. At which point the system will activate, notifying you of its intent via the instrument cluster. The Kona N now runs enhanced transmission mapping, allowing it to gear down preemptively under braking to enter a corner, then hold the gears to redline as you exit and power out of the bend. It harnesses each and every one of the available 392Nms as you hit the after burners from 2,100 to 4,700rpm to sling shot the N forward.
It might interest you to know, at the time of writing this article, the Kona N is the undisputed king as the quickest N model in the Hyundai range.
Did I mention this is a family SUV? But one which pretty much guarantees you’ll be the coolest parent in the school car park, relishing the whispers and looks of envy from other parents as you edge your way through the pick-up zone to grab the kids after school.
OK, let’s take a little peek at the tech and engineering underpinning all this energy and gusto. Starting with large MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear end.
Yep—the N division engineers leveraged N’s Australian chassis program.
With a pointed focused on getting this feisty little SUV’s electronically controlled suspension (ECS) to provide a balanced genuine N driving experience to suit the demands and expectations of Australian drivers while achieving a blend of high-performance and comfort across a range of changing road conditions and, of course, the racetrack.
Through thoughtful and clever design, Hyundai managed to squeeze in a little extra shock absorber stroke to enable this feisty little powerhouse to remain well-mannered whether traversing bumpy and rutted suburban streets or quickly carving through curvaceous country roads.
With the ECS communicating and working in unison with other key performance systems, it allows the driver to take full advantage of the N’s power sense front axle, which has two operating modes, normal for general driving and the more competitive sport mode. The latter has the ability to deal with large surges of engine power to iron out and evenly distribute torque between the front wheels, maximizing control and traction under hard straight-line acceleration, while reducing the tendency of power under steer when pushing through the bends. Improved rigidity of additional body reinforcements with extra welds and reinforced floor plating further improves the N’s torsional and chassis rigidity.
With ECS offering three distinct modes of operation, G-sensors around the N allow the system to interpret changing road surfaces and judge the vehicle’s response to the lateral acceleration, then dynamically adjust the dampers at each corner up to 200 times a second to control body pitch and roll during aggressive braking or acceleration, respectively.
Working feverishly the system is determined to keep wheels firmly planted to enhance the dynamics and responsiveness to driver inputs and achieve scary levels of cornering grip for this family SUV no doubt enhanced by the bespoke ‘HN’ compound P Zero tyres developed in collaboration between Pirelli and Hyundai N.
Braking is where the N series excels.
Stand on the pedal and there’s a confident powerful progressive pedal response, as you can dial in how much or how little your chest leans into the seatbelt now locked by inertial. The devilish bright red N series industrial strength pincers (read callipers) place a crushing hold on the huge, 55mm larger than standard, 360mm rotors up front, while constricting the rotational efforts of the 314mm discs at the rear.
Cursorily extinguishing forward momentum, the N’s braking system’s tenacity to tolerate quickly escalating temperatures and then disperse any excess heat means they have the proficiency and doggedness to withstand the demands of a track drive day while fending off every driver’s angst; brake fade.
Fortunately, the bold bright and very distinctive N LED triangular brake light mounted high for maximum visibility in the rear spoiler, allows other drivers to see just how late the N can break into a corner—thanks to the unyielding high friction braking capability applying a vice like grip on those large disc rotors.
Before you turn on a blistering level of power and acceleration to exit the bend; the exhaust demands the N’s freedom in a loud baritone rumble, building rapidly into an unearthly rasp.
As the shift lights flash, you flip the paddle shifter to crack the bull whip, the dual exhaust barks in anger, and the N’s masterful DCT mercilessly swipes left to satisfy its craving to experience another ratio before devouring the next set of bends.
This is pure exhilaration and so much more than just driving.
Technically speaking the Kona N extensive safety package has got you covered, Forward Collision-Avoidance, Lane Keeping, Lane Following, Driver Attention, Blind-Spot, Smart Cruise Control, Safe Exit Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert plus holding an ANCAP five-star safety rating. This is Hyundai’s commitment to putting you and your occupants’ safety first.
Servicing is every 12 months or 10,000k’s, whichever comes first. And Hyundai’s Lifetime Service Plan allows customers to enjoy exclusive service pricing with no hidden fees. You get a roadside support plan and a Sat Nav update plan, with both available up to 10 years.
And for peace of mind, you’ve got Hyundai’s factory 5 Year unlimited Km vehicle warranty on a vehicle that is equally at home on the road or the racetrack—you’ve got to love that!
If you’ve outgrown the hot-hatch but aren’t ready to forget about fast fun then the Kona N is a worthy contender for pole position in the driveway.
Take the kids to soccer on Saturday and drop them at the grandparents on Sunday so you can head to the racetrack and get ride of a week’s worth of responsible tension in a track ripping good time. The Kona N does the split personality in style, offering practical daily commute and weekend fun machine.
It’s got grunty good looks, a perky growl and delivers on the sporting stickers. Choose N for a bit of necessary naughtiness.
Model: Hyundai Kona N (Premium)
- Price: $62,900
- Engine: 2.0 litre T-GDI with flat power
- Output: 206kW/392Nm
- Transmission: 8-speed wet-type DCT (N DCT)
- 0-100kph: 5.5 sec
- Fuel: 9.0L/100km
- Warranty: 5 Year Unlimited Km
- Safety rating ANCAP 5 Stars
About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.
Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.
Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.